It was reported in the PSBJ that Donald Trump and Wood Partners LLC, a multifamily developer based in Atlanta, are in negotiations to find a site in Seattle for a hotel/condominium project.
Is this the beginning of the end for Seattle as we know it?
Years ago, when California buyers were cashing in their equity and moving into the Pacific Northwest, we used to pray for one of those “California Buyers” to walk into our Open House and plop down cash for our properties. Then when that happened too often, we’d put “Seattle Native” on our license plates and mutter “Don’t Californicate Washington” under our breaths.
What’s the East Coast equivalent to this sentiment? When I was growing up here, people used to complain about Seattle being an unsophisticated backwater. Now, they’re complaining that it’s losing its character with all of the unbridled development.
I hope that enough people will treasure our short history here and our town doesn’t become interchangeable with every other American city, with it’s chains and franchises. I hope that developers can fight the urge to fill their condos and developments with mammoth retail spaces and, instead, make the shop spaces smaller and cheaper to encourage quirky boutiques and small businesses. And I hope they don’t turn a “blind eye” to the street when adding that retail space, allowing the stores to board over the sidewalk-facing windows just to pack in more shelf-space in the stores. That makes for a very unfriendly streetscape.
Achieving density of the sort that makes attractive and lively places does not need not be at the expense of privacy, of overcrowded houses or of increases in traffic and noise. Building types and lot arrangements, though, must be chosen or invented to maintain the character of our city. Ostentatious displays of wealth are not in character with Seattle’s self-made and humble fisherman and lumberjack origins.
Vancouver B.C., our neighbor to the North, has been undertaking a mammoth experiment in urbanism, making over a city in concrete and glass, unlike anything that’s been done in Canada. As the skyline of Seattle changes in tandem, we stop, pause, and wonder what we’re becoming, where we’re going, and what we’ve become.
In Vancouver, ninety percent of the nine million square feet of new towers approved in downtown during this decade have been condos.
In Seattle it’s pretty much the same story. Last year, the Seattle City Council cleared the way for sweeping changes to the downtown skyline when it repealed the height limits voters set on downtown buildings in the 1989 CAP Initiative. According to an article by Bob Young, High-rise boom coming to Seattle? this change could bring as many as 2000 more condo units to downtown Seattle in the coming years.
According to an article in “Canadian Architect” by Trevor Boddy Downtown’s Last Resort, one-third of Vancouver’s head-office jobs left the city during the past six years and the city is becoming a playground of the super-rich and a repository of international funds, parked there as a hedge against global unrest. Critics decry the shift to a downtown future as a “resort,” not a true metropolis and compare the condo glut to “vertical gated communities.”
Then there are questions about the nature of these new downtown residents. Planners portray them as mountain-biking software and computer game developers, walk-to-work denizens of the postmodern economy–but there is just as much contrary evidence that many of the new residents are a golden global class temporarily parking their investment dollars, linked with a huge cohort of Canadian baby boomers planning to spend their final years in Vancouver.
Will downtown Seattle also become a playground for the rich and the elderly? Who will inhabit our new downtown? It won’t be families. There doesn’t appear to be a huge influx of jobs to the downtown area. How many empty-nesters and suburban couples will want to live out their years in a high-rise Trump-style retirement community called Downtown Seattle?
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